Interview by: Lauren
Ellen Wittlinger is the author of Hard Love, Parrotfish, and more. Her next book Love and Lies comes out this summer.
Your novel Hard Love features a lesbian character and Parrotfish focuses on a transgender character. Is there a specific reason that you write books with GLBT characters? Do you think you’ll feature more in the future?
Actually, several of my other books–Razzle, What’s in a Name and Heart on my Sleeve also feature gay and lesbian characters. I guess because I’m not gay some people find it strange that I use so many GLBTQ characters in my books, but it seems right to me. I lived in Provincetown, Massachusetts for a number of years and have always had gay, lesbian and (now) transgender friends. These people usually had a hard time of it when they were coming out back in the 70s and 80s. I think anyone who’s felt like an outsider themselves can empathize with this and I certainly did. I hope I’m writing books that will speak not only to GLBTQ kids, but also to straight kids who sometimes don’t yet “get” it, or just feel uncomfortable around their gay peers. Yes, I will probably have gay characters in books again.
Where did the first idea for Parrotfish come from? What has the feedback been like?
My daughter has a good friend who is transgender and she introduced us. After meeting Toby and liking him immensely, I asked him if he’d be willing to help me understand what his growing up and coming out had been like. The only YA book about the trans experience had been Luna by Julie Ann Peters, a terrific book, but I thought there should be more than one story told on this important subject. Feedback has been great. The book is shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award and is on many GLBTQ reading list for which I’m thrilled.
You’re included in the book Dear Author: Letters of Hope, where YA authors give replies to fan letters. What did you enjoy about being a part of this book? Were there any author letters that you particularly loved?
Yes, this is a terrific book, edited by Joan Kaywell who came up with the wonderful idea. Of course, all I did was contribute my piece, but I’m so happy to be part of the project. Although the author letters were lovely, my favorite part of the book is the letters from the kids. All them are so amazing and honest and searching for truth. That’s the strength of the book, I think. I wish it were in every classroom in the country.
The companion novel to Hard Love, Love and Lies, comes out this summer. What made you decide to write the novel? Is there any information you can give us about the book?
So many fans had asked for a sequel. For years I didn’t think I had a story for a sequel, but suddenly it was just there. I knew it had to be Marisol’s story this time. Gio is still around and so is Birdie, but there are a bunch of new characters too.
What would your advice be for people who are struggling with their sexuality and/or coming out to family and friends?
If we’re talking about teens, I would hope their school had a GSA or similar group they could join. There is a lot of advice on the Web, of course, but not all of it is great. They might start by checking out groups like GLSEN or even PFLAG which will give reliable information. And I would also say to try to find an ally first–tell someone you suspect will be approving and supportive so there will be someone to help you with the tough stuff. If your school has a good guidance counselor, you might start there.
What other GLBT novels or books featuring GLBT characters do you recommend?
There are lots of good books out these days. My new favorite is Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You by Peter Cameron. I also thought Hero by Perry Moore was lots of fun. Others I’ve loved are Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan, The Misfits by Jim Howe and Geography Club by Brent Hartinger. Also the Rainbow Boy books by Alex Sanchez, lots of stuff by M.E. Kerr and Julie Anne Peters. It’s great there are so many now!
Are you currently working on anything at the moment?
Yup. This time it’s a middle-grade book though set during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I know it sounds dry, but I don’t think it is–this period was actually a terrifying time for me personally, and proves to be for my main character too.
If you could wish on a real shooting star, what would you wish for?
I would wish my exuberant puppy suddenly calmed down and stopped chewing up everything in the house!